May 21, 2013
Independent S. Court stands up for democracy
Readers of this column may have noticed a constantly expressed concern that Argentina’s hard won and still vulnerable democracy is threatened and must be protected. I once described that fear in terms of a little poem that has always haunted me because it describes a situation that has existed in different stages of intensity throughout the 50 years that I have lived in, or with Argentina:
Yesterday upon the stair I met a man who wasn’t there He wasn’t there again today Oh, how I wish he’d go away
The man who wasn’t there, but will not go away is the fear that Argentina will again go off the tracks or plunge into chaos. There have been two plunges into chaos during my time in the country: the last (we hope) military dictatorship and the economic collapse of 2001. There have been too many derailments to remember them all.
For many decades the man who wasn’t there but will not go away was the fear of, and sometimes the desire for, a military coup. The shadow of military intervention continued long after the return of democracy in December 1983.
That fear appears to have been banished by the Supreme Court ruling of June 14, 2005, striking down all the amnesty laws. That allowed the former president, the late Néstor Kirchner, to call for the resumption of trials of the military for crimes against humanity, bordering on political genocide.
The trials opened the eyes of most Argentines to the radical evil of the military dictatorship that so many refused to see and that the press, by and large, chose to ignore. The country is finally up to date with a part of its history that was obscured by wilful moral blindness.
As Supreme Court President Ricardo Lorenzetti memorably remarked a year ago during a ceremony at the Buenos Aires Law School, “Human rights have been enshrined in Argentina and there will be no going back.”
Yet democracy is still a fragile plant. Reacting to the self-defeating argument that we are now living under a dictatorship, centrist politician Patricia Bullrich says that we still have a democracy but the word should be put between quotation marks.
I agree. The quotation marks framing the word “democracy” reflect the dubious democratic credentials of both the Kirchner administrations.
Neither Néstor nor Cristina have given me the impression that they are convinced by or committed to democracy. Their version of “democracy” is simply not democracy. I think the explanation is that there is still a hankering for the seventies when the leaders of the Montoneros, the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) and other armed groups wanted to establish a regime along the lines of Castro-Communist Cuba. Police states like Mao’s China and the Soviet Union were models to follow, not those countries where freedom flourished.
Those dangerous illusions flowered during the nongovernment of “Uncle” Héctor Cámpora only to be crushed when the triumphant return from exile of Juan Domingo Perón was crowned with a landslide election that restored rightwing Peronism to power. Today’s youth movement La Cámpora is an echo of the 48 days of leftwing lunacy that the nongovernment of el Tío lasted.
Almost four decades later we again have a government that is closer to magic realism than grim reality. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is failing the test of democracy, showing intolerance toward opposition parties and outright hatred of the press while corruption is tolerated and praise lavished on Venezuela’s dictatorial president Hugo Chávez.
While my hopes for a government that I once admired for firmly pursuing justice, embracing the ideology of human rights, for its policies of social inclusion and for embracing freedom of expression have been dashed by government incursions on freedom, I am still optimistic. I simply refuse to believe that the Argentine people will surrender the rights that are guaranteed under a democracy.
I have been heartened by the firm democratic stance of the Supreme Court and I celebrate the words of Chief Justice Lorenzetti. In Mendoza on Thursday he made it clear the Supreme Court “is not going to give in to any pressure. The credibility of each one of the judges rests on their impartiality. The existing pressures must not intimidate (them).”
My belief that the people themselves will defend democracy, secured at long last and at great cost, has been strengthened by the independence shown by the Supreme Court. I don’t think that there can now be any doubt that the objective of the government is to secure a tame press by using the well-intentioned Media Law for the worst intentions. My experience tells me that once the media is under control, authoritarianism takes over. That has been the lesson of history in Latin America and, particularly, Argentina.
“The Supreme Court stands in the way of a return to the dictatorial past,” is a quotation that introduces the prologue to an impressive book by Chief Justice Lorenzetti and Alfredo Jorge Kraut, the secretary-general of the Supreme Court, Derechos humanos: justicia y reparación (Human Rights: Justice and Reparation). The prologue is by Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge who risked and lost his judicial career in his native land because he sought to advance universal justice.
The quotation cites the philosopher John Rawls who developed a theory to achieve “a well-ordered society” based on “a public conception of justice.”
The Supreme Court and the judiciary stand today as the bulwarks that protect our fragile democracy. They also hold the promise of achieving through justice that “well-ordered society” which would leave magic realism to literature and cause that man that haunts me to go away.